Feehery: The reparations rathole

Feehery: The reparations rathole
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Democrats are about to go down the reparations rathole.

At a hearing last week, the House Judiciary Committee invited several scholars, celebrities and activists to testify about H.R. 40, legislation to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans.

According to the latest polls, the idea of giving cash payments as a way to atone for the sin of slavery is pretty popular among African American voters. According to Gallup, it has a 60 percent approval among this critically important Democratic voting bloc. That number goes much higher if you ask liberal activists that make up the base of the Democratic Party. 


Already, leading Democratic presidential candidates are inching toward endorsing reparations as a policy proposal, led by Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders MORE (Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRep. Bobby Rush endorses Bloomberg's White House bid Actor Michael Douglas endorses Bloomberg for president Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover-up,' 'national disgrace' MORE (Calif.). It is only a matter of time before Joe BidenJoe BidenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' MORE jumps on board. 

Is this good politics for the Democrats? Is it a good policy for the country? Will it help this country come together or will it increase resentment among different ethnic groups and make things worse?

According to Rasmussen, 68 percent of all voters are opposed to paying reparations to the descendants of former slaves, 13 percent are undecided, while only 21 percent are in favor of it. Getting rid of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, another progressive policy proposal, enjoys similar numbers.  

In a crowded primary field, where every liberal voter is desperately needed and where every harebrained progressive scheme becomes a serious policy proposal, embracing reparations might seem to politically expedient. But from a general election standpoint, it would be a political disaster. 

From a policy perspective, giving cash payments to the descendants of all former slaves makes little sense. Neither Danny Glover nor Oprah WinfreyOprah Gail WinfreyTrump and Obama equally admired? Eight things popularity polls tell us Judge Judy rules in favor of Mike Bloomberg, will join him on campaign trail We must work to resist the culture of cruelty MORE need the money, while mere cash payments won’t help those who live in our nation’s most distressed neighborhoods. Figuring all that out while also figuring out how to pay for it would be a logistical problem which the government is ill-suited to solving.

Giving cash reparations for past sins to only black Americans would almost certainly create the demand for more reparations from other ethnic groups. We treated Native Americans brutally. Where is their recompense? How about how we treated the Chinese, Hispanics and the Jews? They were discriminated against, humiliated, exploited and brutalized, all in their own way. Warren recently suggested that gay Americans deserved some sort of reparations. How do you think that will play out with the voters?

How should Republicans respond to the Democrats’ march down the reparations rathole?

First, they should acknowledge that some communities desperately need help. We can’t continue to ignore areas with persistently high unemployment, underperforming schools, family breakdown, terrible gang problems with children who have little chance of breaking out of an endless cycle of dependency and despair. Something has to change.

But it would be wrong and insulting to suggest that this is a problem that faces all black Americans or only black Americans. There are plenty of African Americans who are doing very, very well, who have successfully created better lives for themselves and their families, despite a legacy of discrimination. 

Likewise, there are plenty of other very poor people who aren’t black but face the same problems that we commonly attribute to the African American experience. Indeed, by the numbers, most poor people are white. By percentage, American Indians have the highest poverty rate. 

Second, Republicans should come up with proposals that are consistent with Republican values to help create a better, more inclusive society. 

We need to expect more from our schools. They need to teach kids not only how to succeed professionally but also how to be better human beings, how to be more caring and more responsible adults. 

We need policies that create more affordable housing. Not public housing, but more affordable private housing. 

We need to promote fatherhood and two-parent families, because there is no greater predictor of economic success than having a dad in your life. 

We need a better way to battle addiction and drug dependency. The president signed criminal justice reform, which was a step in the right direction, but we still have tons of work in this area. 

We should avoid the temptation of using reparations as a political weapon against the Democrats. They are the ones going down that rathole, all by themselves. 

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: Republicans need to get on the same page on health care Feehery: Trump is holding all the cards this November Feehery: Losing faith in the people and the Constitution MORE (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).